Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Does Shane van Gisbergen’s Historic Win Translate Into Full-Time Cup Ride?

Shane van Gisbergen stood the motorsports world on its ear this weekend with an unbelievable drive in the final laps of the Grant Park 220 Street Race in Chicago — a feat not seen since 1963 with a driver making his first start and garnering his first win — and did so in spectacular fashion.

With the social media world abuzz afterward and rumors of van Gisbergen under consideration for a third car for Trackhouse Racing in 2024, does his unlikely win thrust him into full-time competition for next season and beyond? Garrett Cook and Vito Pugliese each have a different take on that in a bonus installment this week of 2-Headed Monster.

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Marmite

The first street course race in NASCAR Cup Series history was the site of so much speculation and forecasting gloom that some stories got lost in the shuffle. Looking back, most of us had no idea who van Gisbergen was, where he came from or that he was even attempting the race until we turned on practice Saturday (July 1) and Rick Allen told us about the Supercars Championship legend.

SVG has all of our attention now.

After his debut win, the entire NASCAR community is now watching and waiting to see if this will lead to a full-time Cup Series ride for him. Some would say he’s not worthy — that he came to the Cup Series going up against guys who had never raced a street course before. That his win was as inevitable as Thanos claimed to be.

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Happy Hour: Artie Kempner of FOX Sports Dishes on Chicago Street Race

If you’re not thinking that way, let me now welcome you aboard the SVG hype train. I’ll be your guide.

Sure, he beat a field of guys who had never done what he does for a living in Supercars. But look at the first 50 laps of that race. Who was up front and dominating? The guys who are typically good at road courses. Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson were up front with SVG.

When the race was shortened and strategy was flipped on its end, he found himself behind just like Bell, Reddick and company. He managed to miss the lap 50 traffic jam off turn 11, and with the laps winding down, he went to work. Watching the ticker scroll through the field, the No. 91 car seemed to come out of nowhere. Ninth one lap, fifth the next, then third and pressuring the best NASCAR road course racer of the last decade, Chase Elliott. It’s not like he had a bunch of backmarkers to pass.

He had to earn it against three Cup Series champions.

Another argument I’ve heard against the idea of giving SVG a full-time ride is that he probably couldn’t produce results on ovals, like a driver with a similar background to his.

The last Supercar driver to come to NASCAR and compete was the Tasmanian Devil himself, Marcos Ambrose. Ambrose raced full time in the Cup Series for five seasons, from 2009-14. While Ambrose’s two career wins were on road courses, a lot of people forget that he wasn’t bad on ovals either. Ambrose actually won a pole at Michigan International Speedway and had top-five finishes at places like Bristol Motor Speedway, Dover Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Richmond Raceway.

We have to give this guy a chance. The global exposure of our sport reached a fever pitch with his win. There were race fans all over the world, particularly in New Zealand and Australia, who were cheering on their hero Sunday that had never seen a NASCAR race. Just as the sport found new fans in Chicago, I’m sure there were more new fans that we can now find in Sydney, Melbourne and Wellington.

If he comes out and he just absolutely stinks on ovals and is less successful than Ambrose, then people can say I told you so and I’ll admit I’m wrong here. But the guy literally won a NASCAR race. Guys like David Gilliland, Trevor Bayne and Casey Mears all furthered their opportunities based on winning one single event that they weren’t supposed to. They built careers off being one-hit wonders.

Shouldn’t a guy with three championships and 80 career wins in Supercars get a chance too? Go back and listen to the crowd when van Gisbergen took the checkered flag.

I think that’s all the answer you need. – Garrett Cook

Cinderella Story One-Off May Not Translate into a Season of Success

There’s a few constants in America that will always ring true.

July 4 is cause for fireworks and celebration. Baseball is our national pastime. And whenever anyone does something remotely impressive, we immediately bestow upon them the title of GOAT.

Look no further than NASCAR, especially when talking about the latter. Particularly on the heels of van Gisbergen winning the Grant Park 220 Street Race in Chicago on Sunday, eluding three series champions, flash flood warnings and track-blocking spins during the inaugural event. By becoming the first driver to win in his first Cup Series start since 1963, van Gisbergen, who was +5000 to win on some odds sites, did the near-impossible in the Project 91 Trackhouse Racing entry.

See also
Only Yesterday: Shane van Gisbergen Is 1st Driver in 60 Years To Win in 1st Try

To say it was impressive is an understatement. The insinuation that he’s going to be a transformational fixture in the sport is a leap larger than Auckland to Atlanta. While it’s an important and historic mark, it needs to be put in perspective.

The street circuit was a first for NASCAR, a series that has been steadily ramping up the number of road courses on the schedule each year. It used to be just two stops a year to Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International for three decades, but they now make up about 20% of the schedule.

The Next Gen car was heavily influenced by the Supercars entries that van Gisbergen has been so dominant in — winning 23 races his last two seasons in that series and a pair of championships. It is a road-racing series with street circuits, so this was pretty familiar territory for van Gisbergen — despite having never raced at Chicago other than on a simulator — as the rest of the field hadn’t before either.

Following the race, he stated that any of the top 10 drivers in his series could have done what he did at Chicago. I didn’t take that as a swipe at the talent level in the Cup Series, it was more recognizing this is their wheelhouse and a very different type of racing than Cup regulars are used to. SVG’s third fastest lap was a quarter of a second quicker than anyone else in the field. His fastest lap, over 0.8 faster; if a series regular did that, the car would be spending a month at NASCAR’s R&D Center for forensics.

Imagine if the roles were reversed. Let’s say they were racing at the new fictional 2.6-mile (sorry … 4.18km) 33-degree banked Australian Superspeedrome, and Chase Elliott showed up to do a one-off race, and he happened to dominate the event. Would fans be fist-pumping, deeming him the next great world driving threat? Or would the sentiment be, “Yeah, good. … He should have won.”

Yesterday’s win felt like if Tommy Kendall, Boris Said or Ron Fellows were able to convert their early opportunities in the Cup Series; not unlike Robby Gordon putting on a clinic twice a year, but with better luck.

There was another Supercars champion from Tasmania 15 years ago who had a similar impact on NASCAR. Marcos Ambrose had won two championships in the early 2000s before making his way to the US.

Ambrose was competitive and won two races at Watkins Glen (we’ll not delve into the coasting-uphill-at-Sonoma thing …) in the Cup Series, and five races in the Xfinity Series; four at the Glen and one in Montreal. He had 18 career top fives, half of which were on road courses, the others mostly at short tracks. He certainly did maximize his opportunities in less than A-tier rides, but he didn’t ascend to one either.

I’m sure I sound like a wet blanket trying to temper the enthusiasm over what was a truly great, memorable moment in the face of a lot of obstacles leading up the event and during the weekend itself. What van Gisbergen did needs to be recognized for what it was, but creating these lofty expectations for success based off one extreme outlier isn’t fair to him or the No. 91 team should he make his way to the States full time in 2024.

Enjoy it for what it was, but let’s not break ground on a new wing in the Hall of Fame just yet. – Vito Pugliese

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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